How to Run Your In-house Marketing Like an Efficient, Profitable Agency

by Debra Andrews | September 9, 2020

When it comes to staffing the marketing function, there are typically three options: handle it in-house, outsource it, or use a hybrid approach. For B2B companies that hire internal staff, maximizing those resources and getting the best possible return on the investment is a must.

How can you get your in-house marketing group running efficiently and profitably? The key is to view your internal marketing resources just like you would an external agency.

A Tale of Two Mindsets   

There’s typically a stark difference in how an in-house marketing department and an external agency are perceived. Most B2B companies view their in-house marketing as pure overhead—a corporate service that doesn’t directly contribute to the top line. But in a marketing agency, each member of the team is a billable resource, with nearly every hour of time spent contributing to top-line revenue.

It’s a crucial difference that directly affects how marketers operate in an in-house setting vs an agency setting.

In an agency, where the expectation is that virtually every hour is billable, marketers are held highly accountable. They’re expected to generate a certain volume of work within a specified timeframe and budget, and that usually equates to high output, week after week. They’re also expected to track their hours against specific projects, to ensure they stay on schedule and on budget.  

For in-house marketers, the expectations can be quite different. Project deadlines may not be hard-and-fast, which can slow down progress and inhibit throughput. The scope of a project or program may not be nailed down firmly, leaving marketers with no guardrails for how many hours to spend on the work. And it’s rare that in-house marketers are required to track hours against specific projects or tasks, creating an accountability gap.    

Shifting the Perspective

B2B companies that staff their marketing internally can take a page from the agency book to drive greater efficiency, profitability, and accountability. It all comes down to changing the perception of the in-house team and the mindset of the marketing staff.

Rest assured, this is not about turning into Big Brother! But it is about increasing productivity, using resources effectively, spotting staff development opportunities, and setting up the marketing department to be a key contributor to the company’s growth and success.

So, how do you apply an agency mindset to your in-house marketing department? Here are four important steps to take.

1. Develop a Strategic Marketing Plan

As with most types of change, shifting an in-house marketing group to an agency mindset begins with a plan.

strategic marketing plan is the roadmap that can guide an in-house team’s work and keep them humming along in the right direction. Developing a plan forces the organization to take a disciplined approach to marketing—conducting market research, assessing different vertical markets and segments within those verticals, identifying the ideal buyers and influencers, and developing a strategy to drive market penetration.

Having a strategic marketing plan as a foundation improves the work of in-house marketers in important ways:

  • It eliminates scattershot marketing, which is rarely effective.
  • It focuses marketers on strategic priorities, rather than reactive tasks.
  • It shifts marketers from order-takers to implementers of strategic initiatives.
  • It reduces turnover (reactive order-takers tend to get burned out and move on).

It takes leadership involvement to identify strategic business priorities and secure buy in, then build out a strategic marketing plan that aligns with those priorities. But while middle market companies almost always have a COO and CFO, they’re not as likely to have a CMO. Hiring a fractional CMO can help fill the marketing leadership void and get a sound strategic marketing plan in place.

A word of caution on staffing the marketing leadership role: If can be tempting to assign it to a leader from another functional area, especially if that person has strong institutional knowledge. But without a solid understanding of modern marketing principles, technologies, and best practices, a non-marketer won’t be well positioned to lead this function out of the gate. Training, coaching, and other support can help fill gaps and streamline the ramp-up, but there is no quick-fix for a lack of experience in this fast-changing field.

2. Use Tracking to Boost Accountability

In professional services firms, only the billable professionals track their time. In other B2B companies, it’s likely that none of the staff tracks their hours. But tracking where time is spent is a must for creating a culture of accountability. If you don’t know how the marketing staff is spending its time, you won’t know whether they’re working efficiently and focused on the right priorities.  

Thanks to tools like Teamwork, setting up a process to log and track time is relatively easy. B2B companies often set up separate business units or service lines as individual clients, then create individual projects for each of those clients.

The strategic marketing plan should drive the projects and tasks the marketing team tracks its time against. For each project, the system should note the number of hours allocated, the start and end date, and milestones with due dates. As a leader, you can use this data to get a handle on the marketing team’s workload, capacity, productivity, and training or coaching needs. You’ll also be able to tell if they’re strategically focused—or running around fulfilling every tactical whim.

3. Keep Pace with Best Practices

As fast as technology is changing, marketing is evolving at nearly the same pace. When change is the name of the game, staying current on best practices is essential. But doing so can be challenging. The changes in website technology alone are staggering: How to best structure a website for search engine optimization, how to develop keyword-rich content that ranks high in online searches, how to develop a web site that’s ADA-compliant. And that’s just scratching the surface.

When you run an in-house marketing team, the onus is on them to keep up with the fast pace of change in the marketing field. Even if you outsource a portion of the marketing function to an agency, don’t rely solely on the marketing partner to stay current. Instead, develop a culture of continuous learning that encourages and rewards professional development. Just as an accountant or attorney is required to complete continuing education credits, expect your in-house marketers to keep up to date by following quality blogs, listening to podcasts, sitting in on webinars, and attending the most relevant conferences. It’s the only way to develop a productive, efficient marketing team that’s capable of driving a high ROI.

4. Measure What Matters

Internal marketers run the risk of being task oriented. More tasks completed equates to a higher impact and better results, right? Wrong.

Maybe your latest webinar attracted 75 attendees…but did any of them convert to sales?

Perhaps your most recent blog post got 132 hits…but did any of them turn into qualified leads?

Don’t assume in-house marketers define success the same way the leadership team does. Identify the metrics that matter to your business and document them in the strategic marketing plan. Then hold the marketing team accountable for achieving those measurable, relevant results.

Let’s say you’re using marketing automation to guide new leads through the revenue funnel and convert them to sales. Most marketers will want to know how campaigns are performing. If they’re not doing well (too few leads, MQLS, SQLS), is it because there aren’t enough visits hitting a landing page—or is it because the landing page content isn’t on target and compelling and the conversion rate is too low?

Unless you have the relevant data to answer this question, you could waste time and resources running 10 more similar campaigns to increase traffic only to fall short at the point of conversion. By identifying the most important metrics and setting up a measurement system, you’ll equip marketers with everything they need to know to be effective: What worked, what didn’t, and what to do differently.

A robust measurement system also helps demonstrate to the rest of the company that marketing is generating a strong ROI. When the marketing team can show the CEO or CFO how many new leads they drove into the pipeline and how well those leads converted, securing the right level of investment in marketing becomes an easy sell. Without that data, justifying the expense in marketing resources is an uphill battle.

Many B2B companies outsource their marketing function to Marketri on a turnkey basis, from leadership and strategic planning, to execution and measurement. Others rely on Marketri to help build out a marketing team that functions like a well-oiled agency. If you’d like expert guidance on how to develop an effective, profitable, highly accountable in-house marketing group, give us a call!

And if you have no idea how to structure your marketing department, then download our Guide below!